In the last part of Chapter 5 The Human Problem, the authors explain that deficits in nurturing can and do happen throughout the 6 developmental stages children go through. They characterize the six stages as: connecting (birth-18 months), exploration (18-36 months), identity (3-4 years), competence (4-7 years), social (7-13 years), and intimacy (13 years-adulthood).
Children develop different strategies depending on which developmental stage challenges arise. Typically the strategies revolve around either maximizing or minimizing their defenses. Interestingly enough, they go on to say that later in life, in an intimate relationship, “Partners tend to choose mates whose childhood challenge was in the same developmental stage but whose adaptation to the challenge was opposite to theirs.” (p.115)
Analyze Your Own Relationship
See if that makes sense in your own relationship for those of you who do have a partner. Does one of you tend to maximize the response to conflict, while the other minimizes? Harville uses the analogy of a turtle and a hailstorm. The hailstorm says to the turtle “Talk to me, talk to me”. I was certainly the turtle in our relationship, so what was I doing? Going deeper and deeper into my shell. In our more conscious relationship, I needed to learn to stick my nose out a bit more. You get the idea.
I’ll take a look at what they say about the first developmental stage but know the same maximizing and minimizing strategies show up all the way down the line.
The Connecting Stage
“In Imago, rather than an attachment impulse, the child comes connecting or already attached. What is required from the caretaker, therefore, is to be consistently resonant with, warm with, and available to the child to maintain the cosmic connecting with which the child came into the world which can only be maintained through resonance with the caretaker. Cosmic connecting is dependent upon the interpersonal.” (pp. 115-116)
Minimizing Adaptation to the Connecting Challenge:
“Should the caretaker respond inconsistently, by being cold and only sporadically available or warm, the child may shut down their feelings and draw the conclusion that they are unlovable and unwanted. This very early, and therefore severe, childhood challenge cuts into a child’s core need not only to be wanted but also to be protected and embraced by others and ruptures the sense of cosmic belonging.
If the caretaker is not available or is inconsistently available, and alternates, being sometime warm and sometimes cold, the child will minimize their attachment: the child deflects the terror of not receiving warm and consistent caretaker contact by deciding that they do not need contact after all. We call these persons minimizers when they are children, and they are called avoiders in adult intimate relationships. And they also lose their cosmic connection.” (p.116)
Maximizing Adaptation to the Connecting Challenge:
“In response to warm but inconsistently available nurturing at the connecting stage, a child may develop an unquenchable longing for more contact with the caretaker. The inconsistent availability of the child’s lifeline creates the fear of abandonment, and unlike the minimizer who withdraws, the maximizing child clings to their prized caretaker in an ongoing campaign to ensure that the caretaker never abandons them. In their adult intimate relationship, this person will be a clinger.” (.p.116)
As I said, they work through all six developmental stages showing how some children respond to any loss of connection, which is specific to each developmental stage, by a more minimizing approach, and others to a more maximizing approach.
Now, here is their interesting insight, at least for me.
“Simultaneously, the desire for the recovery of the sensation of connecting is born with the loss of connecting, and the drive to recover connecting permeates everything we do. What makes it possible for us to recover the original condition is that we have a memory of it from childhood, so we recognize it when we experience it.” (p.122)
The Next Chapter
“In the next chapter, (the authors continue) we turn to the function of memory in the restoration of connecting. Not only do we have a memory of the original condition, we also have a memory of the people and circumstances responsible for our loss of it. Since having it and the loss of it are connected to the same cast of characters in our childhood, it makes sense that our unconscious would look for them or a reasonable facsimile. That brings us to the Imago, the central aspect of our clinical theory, and the hope for the recovery of joy, wonder, and full aliveness.” (p. 122-123)
Imago is the Latin word for image. The key insight of Imago theory is that we tend to be attracted to someone in an intimate relationship who has both the positive but also negative traits of our family of origin. That piece I have known for many years. What is new for me, and what they go into in great detail in Chapter 6, is the role of memory in the construction of the Imago and what science tells us about how the brain works. I’ll take a look at that next week.